Interesting New Books — 2010

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A running tally of interesting new books publishing in 2010 that have caught my attention.


About a Mountain by John D’Agata

Release date: February 8, 2010
Read my essay on this book:
“If there were such a thing as Emerging American Essayist Laureate, John D’Agata would be it. In a literary landscape where essay-writing is typically reserved for journalistic think-pieces, John McPhee, and mid-list novelists looking to cultivate new audiences, John D’Agata has endeavored to reinvent the form once again and raise it onto an equal branch of literature’s family tree. About a Mountain is D’Agata’s second book, following upon his widely discussed, frequently misunderstood, and occasionally acclaimed collection of essays Halls of Fame. He is also the editor of a projected 2,000-page trilogy of essay anthologies that counts among its contributors Joan Didion, Susan Sontag, John McPhee, Montaigne, Mallarmé, and Ziusudra of Sumer. As a nation hungry for answers begins to look more and more past fiction to essayists to explain what is happening to America, John D’Agata is among those leading the advance guard. ”


Edward Said: The Charisma of Criticism by H. Aram Veeser

Release date: March 15, 2010
“This insightful critical biography shows us an Edward Said we did not know. H. Aram Veeser brings forth not the Said of tabloid culture, or Said the remote philosopher, but the actual man, embedded in the politics of the Middle East but soaked in the values of the West and struggling to advance the best European ideas. Veeser shows the organic ties connecting his life, politics, and criticism. Drawing on what he learned over 35 years as Said’s student and skeptical admirer, Veeser uses never-before-published interviews, debate transcripts, and photographs to discover a Said who had few inhibitions and loathed conventional routine.”

The Changeling by Kenzaburo Oe

Release date: March 16, 2010
Read my review of this book:
“When Kenzaburo Oe won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1994, he made a startling claim: Henceforth, he would abandon the autobiographical style that had previously characterized his work. The fruit of that declaration, a sprawling novel about religious sects and nuclear catastrophe called “Somersault,” was published in English translation in 2003 to widespread criticism. Although Oe had lost none of his ambition to explore Japan’s complex quest for a postwar identity, the characters were hollow, the plot was middling and the few rewards were lost among the muddle of the book. Oe’s next novel, “The Changeling,” has just come out in English, and it offers evidence that the Japanese master has regained his footing.”


Agaat by Marlene van Niekerk

Release date: April 16, 2010
From the Publishers Weekly review: “Van Niekerk follows the widely lauded Triomf with a dark, innovative epic that trudges through the depths of a South African farmwife’s soul. In 1947, Milla Redelinghuys is determined to turn her wealthy new husband, Jak, into the latest salt-of-the-earth farmer in her family’s line. But her demands and manipulative personality cause an early marital rift that only worsens with time.”

Ilustrado by Miguel Syjuco

Release date: April 27, 2010
“Ambitious . . . In a daring literary performance, Syjuco weaves the invented with the factual . . . Ilustrado is being presented as a tracing of 150 years of Philippine history, but it’s considerably more than that . . . Spiced with surprises and leavened with uproariously funny moments, it is punctuated with serious philosophical musings.” —Raymond Bonner, The New York Times Book Review


The Literary Conference by Cesar Aira

Release date: May 25, 2010
Read my review/essay of this book:
“Although any Aira novel is a minefield of irony – and Silver has done a fine job here of maintaining the author’s suggestive coyness – remarks like the above are particularly difficult to take at face value. One doubts such a muddled mind could produce novels as subtly interweaved as Aira’s. The Literary Conference makes a fine example: the kernel of the plot is the idea to take a cell from Fuentes and clone it into an army, a metaphor for Aira’s own status as a prolific writer, firing off experiment after experiment and conquering his rivals by sheer ubiquity.”


Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross

Release date: June 22, 2010
From the Publishers Weekly review:
“Ross’s inspired debut explores the proximity of violence and love and begins with the death of Alice Pepin, whose lifelong struggle with depression, insecurity, and obesity comes to an abrupt end at her kitchen table when she is found dead with a peanut lodged in her throat. She has suffered suicide by anaphylactic shock—or so claims her husband, David, a quiet computer game programmer obsessed with M.C. Escher, Hitchcock, and working and re-working a draft of his unpublished novel, a violent possible masterpiece. Gradually, the two detectives on the case begin to see disturbing parallels between their own marital dramas and the Pepins’ cruel rotations of brinkmanship and adoration.”


The Inner Sky by Rainer Maria Rilke

Release date: July 16, 2010
“The Inner Sky is a new selection of poems and prose by the great poet Rainer Maria Rilke, set with the original text and a facing page translation, and including more than a dozen works that have never before appeared in English. The translations, by the NEA and PEN-award-winning author and translator Damion Searls, are lively, moving, and appealing, and they give a new voice for Rilke in English: mystical but concrete, like Emily Dickinson or Gerard Manley Hopkins.”

Pedigree by Georges Simenon

Release date: July 20, 2010
Read my review of this book:
“The book foregoes a strong plot to instead trace out the bird’s nest of relationships among the family and their neighbors over the first fifteen years of Élise’s son Roger’s life. Simenon claimed he wrote Pedigree so that his own son, Marc, could know the era surrounding his father’s youth, and, indeed, Pedigree was to be followed by a complete suite of autobiographical books forming a picture of early 20th-century Liège. The following books were never to written, however, as Simenon was spooked by a series of lawsuits lodged by individuals he identified by name in Pedigree. Thus the story is cut off at the Armistice, with the adolescent Roger just showing the first signs of a writing career.”

The Four Fingers of Death by Rick Moody

Release date: July 28, 2010
From the Publishers Weekly review: “No amount of familiarity with Moody’s body of work will prepare a reader for this distressingly impertinent exercise in bafflement. The plot originates in 2024 with Montese Crandall, a blocked writer whose list of woes includes a wife in a coma and an unsavory passion for baseball cards featuring bionically enhanced players, and whose major success is winning the right to author the novelization of the remake of the 1963 horror flick The Crawling Hand. The novelization, then, basically is the book.”

The Return by Roberto Bolano

Release date: July 29, 2010
From the Publishers Weekly review: “Devotees of Bolaño will recognize the writer’s merciless (and often humorous) fusion of high art and dark human nature in small flights like Meeting with Enrique Lihn and comic bloodbaths like William Burns, though mercy plays a surprising role in several of the stories, as in the incredible Prefiguration of Lalo Cura, in which the cast and crew of high-concept pornos face their late-life requiem. The initiated and dedicated have a welcome feast of small desolations.”


Eline Vere by Louis Couperus

Release date: August 1, 2010
From Michael Dirda’s review:
“‘Eline Vere” first appeared in 1889, and its success launched the career of Louis Couperus (1863-1923), now regarded as the greatest Dutch novelist of his time. That may sound like faint praise. It shouldn’t. With this “novel of The Hague,” Couperus produced one of those beautifully composed, old-style realist novels that present an entire society to us while simultaneously questioning its values. If you enjoy Tolstoy or Trollope, you really should try Ina Rilke’s new translation of this superb, albeit too little-known book.”

I Curse the River of Time by Per Petterson

Release date: August 3, 2010
“It is 1989: Communism is crumbling, and Arvid Jansen, thirtyseven, is facing his first divorce. At the same time, his mother gets diagnosed with cancer. Over a few intense autumn days, we follow Arvid as he struggles to find a new footing in his life while all the established patterns around him are changing at staggering speed. I Curse the River of Time is an honest, heartbreaking yet humorous portrayal of a complicated mother-son relationship told in Per Petterson’s precise and beautiful prose.”

In Utopia by J.C. Hallman

Release date: August 3, 2010
“In 2005, J.C. Hallman came across a scientific paper about “Pleistocene Rewilding,” a peculiar idea from conservation biology that suggested repopulating bereft ecosystems with endangered “megafauna.” The plan sounded utterly utopian, but Hallman liked the idea as much as the scientists did—perhaps because he had grown up on a street called Utopia Road in a master-planned community in Southern California. Pleistocene Rewilding rekindled in him a longstanding fascination with utopian ideas, and he went on to spend three weeks at the world’s oldest “intentional community,” sail on the first ship where it’s possible to own “real estate,” train at the world’s largest civilian combat-school, and tour a $30 billion megacity built from scratch on an artificial island off the coast of Korea.”

The Rest Is Jungle And Other Stories by Mario Benedetti

Release date: August 15, 2010
“In this exquisite new short story collection, celebrated Latin American writer Mario Benedetti affords us a beguiling glimpse of a world in flux. Addressing subjects ranging from love and middle-class frustration in the city to the pain of exile, the stories in The Rest is Jungle transport the reader from the cafes of Montevideo to the fault lines that divide nations and people. Whether poking fun at the pretentions of the contemporary literary scene, or offering a moving portrait of multi-generational family life, Benedetti discerns the irony, humor and heartbreak in every situation. From the hilarious depiction of an office worker battling with bureaucracy, to a domestic tragedy recounted from the perspective of an eavesdropping family pet, the stories in this playful and provocative collection throw light on that curious realm where our public and private lives intersect. ”

Prose by Thomas Bernhard

Release date: August 15, 2010
“First published in German in 1967, these stories were written at the same time as Bernhard’s early novels Frost, Gargoyles, and The Lime Works, and they display the same obsessions, restlessness, and disarming mastery of language. Martin Chalmer’s outstanding translation, which renders the work in English for the first time, captures the essential personality of the work. The narrators of these stories lack the strength to do anything but listen and then write, the reader in turn becoming a captive listener, deciphering the traps laid by memory.”

The Nice Old Man and the Pretty Girl by Italo Svevo

Release date: August 31, 2010
“The fable-like story of an old man’s sexual obsession with a young woman is a distillation of Italo Svevo’s converns–attraction of an older man to a younger woman, individual conscience versus social convention, and the cost of sexual desire. This novella is a marvel of psychological insight, following the man’s vacillations and tortuous self-justifications to their tragic-comic end. It is presented here in a translation first commissioned and published by Virginia Woolf for her Hogarth Press.”


The Orange Eats Creeps by Grace Krilanovick

Release date: September 1, 2010
t’s the ’90s Pacific Northwest refracted through a dark mirror, where meth and madness hash it out in the woods. . . . A band of hobo vampire junkies roam the blighted landscape—trashing supermarket breakrooms, praying to the altar of Poison Idea and GG Allin at basement rock shows, crashing senior center pancake breakfasts—locked in the thrall of Robitussin trips and their own wild dreams. A girl with drug-induced ESP and an eerie connection to Patty Reed (a young member of the Donner Party who credited her survival to her relationship with a hidden wooden doll), searches for her disappeared foster sister along “The Highway That Eats People,” stalked by a conflation of Twin Peaks’ “Bob” and the Green River Killer, known as Dactyl.

C by Tom McCarthy

Release date: September 7, 2010
“Opening in England at the turn of the twentieth century, C is the story of a boy named Serge Carrefax, whose father spends his time experimenting with wireless communication while running a school for deaf children. Serge grows up amid the noise and silence with his brilliant but troubled older sister, Sophie: an intense sibling relationship that stays with him as he heads off into an equally troubled larger world.”

Fame by Daniel Kehlmann

Release date: September 14, 2010
“After some initial hesitation, a man receiving someone else’s phone calls begins to play with his new identity. From one day to the next, an actor’s telephone falls dead silent, as though someone has stolen his life. A writer takes a pair of trips with a woman whose worst fear is to end up in one of his works. A somewhat confused Internet blogger wants nothing more than to become a character in a novel. A detective-story writer goes missing while on a journey through Central Asia, a fictional old woman on her deathbed quarrels with the writer who created her, and a managing director at a cell phone company goes crazy trying to manage his double life with two women.”

Manazuru by Hiromi Kawakami

Release date: September 14, 2010
From Publishers Weekly
“In Kawakami’s first novel to be translated into English, a woman fades in and out of the present as she visits the beach town of Manazuru, in the shadow of Mt. Fuji. Kei’s husband disappeared when their daughter, Momo, was three. Momo is now 12 and lives with Kei and Kei’s mother in Tokyo. Moments shared among the women are pleasant but awkward, due to three generations of unspoken resentment. Some jarring transitions aside, Kawakami’s handling of temporal space feels authentic: as Kei kisses her lover in one time and place, the wetness leaves her lips in another; she sits alone on a bench in Tokyo. The real and the fantastical meld as Kei narrowly avoids disaster (she escapes the typhoon that destroys the restaurant where she was dining). Her memories are startlingly vivid, yet their veracity remains uncertain; are the visions she has of her husband with another woman real or imagined?”

Listen to This by Alex Ross

Release date: September 28, 2010
“Alex Ross’s award-winning international bestseller, The Rest Is Noise, has become a contemporary classic, establishing him as one of our most popular and acclaimed cultural historians. Listen to This, which takes its title from a beloved 2004 essay in which Ross described his late-blooming discovery of pop music, showcases the best of Ross’s writing from more than a decade at The New Yorker. These pieces, dedicated to classical and popular artists alike, are at once erudite and lively. In a previously unpublished essay, Ross brilliantly retells hundreds of years of music history—from Renaissance dances to Led Zeppelin—through a few iconic bass lines of celebration and lament.”

The Clash of Images by Abdelfattah Kilito

Release date: September 29, 2010
“Abdelfattah Kilito’s The Clash of Images is an enchanting collection of linked stories set in a coastal city of memories. It is a time when the old Arabic world of texts and oral traditions is making way for something new—the modern era of the image, the comic book, photo IDs, and the cinema. Together, the stories form a kaleidoscopic memoir of growing up in two worlds, a brilliant mixture of cultural and family history. Here are tales of first kisses and first reads, Tintin and the Prophet Muhammad, fantasies of the Wild West, the inferno of the bathhouse, and the lost paradises of childhood. The Clash of Images is a magic lantern of a book, a celebration of storytelling and all its pleasures that is beautifully translated by Robyn Creswell, who won a PEN Translation Fund Award for this collection. ”

An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris by Georges Perec

Release date: September 30, 2010
“One overcast weekend in October 1974, Georges Perec set out in quest of the “infraordinary”: the humdrum, the non-event, the everyday–“what happens,” as he put it, “when nothing happens.” His choice of locale was Place Saint-Sulpice, where, ensconced behind first one cafe window, then another, he spent three days recording everything to pass through his field of vision: the people walking by; the buses and driving-school cars caught in their routes; the pigeons moving suddenly en masse; a wedding (and then a funeral) at the church in the center of the square; the signs, symbols and slogans littering everything; and the darkness that finally absorbs it all.”


Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls
Alissa Nutting

Release date: October 1, 2010
Winner of the 6th Starcherone Prize for Innovative Fiction, chosen by Ben Marcus. In this darkly hilarious debut collection, misfit women and girls in every strata of society are investigated through various ill-fated jobs. One is the main course of dinner, another the porn star contracted to copulate in space for a reality TV show. They become futuristic ant farms, get knocked up by the star high school quarterback and have secret abortions, use parakeets to reverse amputations, make love to garden gnomes, go into air conditioning ducts to confront their mother’s ghost, and do so in settings that range from Hell to the local white-supremacist bowling alley. “These fine stories, anthropologically thorough in their view of the contemporary person, illuminate how people hide behind their pursuits, concealing what matters most to them while striving, and usually failing, to be loved”–Ben Marcus

Exley by Brock Clarke

Release date: October 5, 2010
From Publishers Weekly:
“Clarke follows up his acclaimed An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England with a less gripping exploration of truth and fiction, set in Watertown, N.Y., during the Iraq war. Miller, a precocious nine-year-old eighth grader, is convinced that when his parents split up, his father joined the army, was shipped to Iraq, and is now recovering from combat injuries in a VA hospital. The father-son dynamic has roots in, strangely enough, Frederick Exley’s cult book, A Fan’s Notes, which Miller’s father is obsessed with, leading Miller to fantasize that, if he can locate Exley, his father will be cured. Miller’s story is augmented by the notes of his therapist, whose professionalism is first compromised by his attraction to Miller’s mother and soon by his amazingly unethical (and sometimes morbidly funny) antics–breaking into Miller’s house, playing along to a perverse degree with Miller’s interest in locating Exley–that eventually obliterate the already tenuous line between reality and imagination.”

Essays from the Nick of Time: Reflections and Refutations by Mark Slouka

Release date: October 26, 2010
“Collected over fifteen years, these essays include fascinating explorations of the relationship between memory and history and the nature of “tragedy” in a media-driven culture; meditations on the transcendent “wisdom” of the natural world and the role of silence in an age of noise; and arguments in defense of the political value of leisure time and the importance of the humanities in an age defined by the language of science and industry. Written in Slouka’s supple and unerring prose, celebratory, critical, and passionate, Essays from the Nick of Time reawakens us to the moment and place in which we find ourselves, caught between the fading presence of the past and the neon lure of the future.”


Job by Joseph Roth

Release date: November 1, 2010
“The faith of Mendel Singer, a teacher in Galicia, is tested at every turn. Eventually his worldview erodes along with his belief in God’s omnipotence. Singer and his family move to America, where his eldest son joins the army and is killed in WWI. Then a miracle occurs, and Singer’s faith is renewed. This moving and insightful modern fable is one of Joseph Roth’s greatest works.”

Tablet & Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East (Words Without Borders Books)

Release date: November 8, 2010
“A landmark literary event, this groundbreaking work spans a century of literature by the region’s best writers—from the famed Arab poet Khalil Gibran to the Turkish Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk—all of them bound together not by borders and nationalities but by a common experience of colonial domination and western imperialism. As best-selling author Reza Aslan writes, the mesmerizing prose of the Middle East-Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Urdu-has been virtually excluded from the canon available to English readers. Under the umbrella of Words Without Borders, Aslan has assembled this extraordinary collection of short stories, memoirs, essays, and poems, featuring both contemporary and historical works, with many of the selections newly appearing in English. Featuring literature from countries as diverse as Morocco and Iran, Turkey and Pakistan, Tablet & Pen is a long-awaited work that is to be devoured as a single sustained narrative from the first page to the last.”

Sunset Park by Paul Auster

Release date: November 9, 2010
“Sunset Park follows the hopes and fears of a cast of unforgettable characters brought together by the mysterious Miles Heller during the dark months of the 2008 economic collapse. An enigmatic young man employed as a trash-out worker in southern Florida obsessively photographing thousands of abandoned objects left behind by the evicted families. A group of young people squatting in an apartment in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. The Hospital for Broken Things, which specializes in repairing the artifacts of a vanished world. William Wyler’s 1946 classic The Best Years of Our Lives. A celebrated actress preparing to return to Broadway. An independent publisher desperately trying to save his business and his marriage.”

The Sixty-Five Years of Washington by Juan Jose Saer

Release date: November 16, 2010
“Saer’s novels frequently thematize the situation of the self-exiled writer through the figures of two twin brothers, one of whom remained in Argentina during the dictatorship, while the other, like Saer himself, moved to Paris; several of his novels trace their separate and intertwining fates, along with those of a host of other characters who alternate between foreground and background from work to work. Like several of his contemporaries (Ricardo Piglia, César Aira, Roberto Bolaño), Saer’s work often builds on particular and highly codified genres, such as detective fiction (The Investigation), colonial encounters (The Witness), travelogues (El rio sin orillas), or canonical modern writers (e.g. Proust, in La mayor, or Joyce, in Sombras sobre vidrio esmerilado).”

My Prizes by Thomas Bernard

Release date: November 23, 2010
“Written in 1980 but published here for the first time, these texts tell the story of the various farces that developed around the literary prizes Thomas Bernhard received. Whether it was the Bremen Literature Prize, the Grillparzer Prize, or the Austrian State Prize, his participation in the acceptance ceremony–always less than gracious, it must be said–resulted in scandal.”

While the Women Are Sleeping by Javier Marías

Release date: November 29, 2010
“A dozen unforgettable stories by “one of the most original writers at work today” (Wyatt Mason, The New York Times Book Review). Slippery figures in anomalous situations — ghosts, spies, bodyguards, criminals — haunt these stories by Javier Marías: the characters come bearing their strange and special secrets, and never leave our minds. In one story, a man obsessed with his much younger lover endlessly videotapes her every move, and then confides his surprising plans for her; in another a ghost can’t stop resigning from his job. Masterfully, Marías manages in a small space to perplex and delight. “The short story fits Marías like a glove,” as Le Point noted. His stories have been hailed as “formidably intelligent” (The London Review of Books), “a bracing tonic” (Chicago Tribune), and “startling” (The New York Times Book Review).”


Zone by Mathias Enard

Release date: December 14, 2010
Read about Zone in The Quarterly Conversation:
“Much has been made of the 517-page sentence. Too much. Most French reviewers took it as the cue to yell experimental! The few English-language mentions that Zone has garnered on blogs and in newspapers have generally taken a similar approach. Let’s take this opportunity to set the record straight: nothing could be further from the truth than to call Zone an experimental book.”


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